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The Science Behind Why Music Makes Us Feel So Good

The Science Behind Why Music Makes Us Feel So Good

Music plays an important role in our lives. Our coming of age is marked by a personal soundtrack and we can evoke vivid memories and emotions by listening to music. People who make music can attest to this further and are said to have high levels of intelligence, especially if they can read and create original music by playing a variety of musical instruments or using their voice as an instrument in song. There is a lot of research about music and its relationship to intelligence.

If you have ever been moved by a piece of music or experienced a life changing live musical performance; if you’ve created music or have found solace in playing an instrument or listening to your favorite artist, you will be interested in the science behind why music makes us feel so good.

Enjoying music is unique to humans. Unlike food or sex, music isn’t necessary for our survival, but it is extremely rewarding and pleasurable. It taps into the same parts of the brain that pleasure from sex and food does. Music floods the brain with a chemical called dopamine. Dopamine is the chemical in the brain associated with pleasure, motivation and reward.

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Studies have shown that certain pieces of classical music will have the same effect on everyone. They trigger the same changes in the brain regardless of past musical experience or preference. Of course everyone is different and music will make us respond according to our own taste and familiarity. Our enjoyment is simply determined by whether or not we like it. However these investigations have shown that some music will cause our brains to respond unanimously and gives people a universal experience, especially when being enjoyed simultaneously like at an orchestral concert.

Neuroscientists Dr Valorie Salimpoor and Dr Robert Zatorre conducted research using PET scans (positron emission tomography) to detect the release of dopamine in the brain when subjects listened to their favorite songs. They later used MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) to view the pleasure center of the brain where the dopamine is released and then mapped out its connection with other areas of the brain associated with emotion, learning, memory and decision making. It was these connections that were the most interesting revelation.

The pleasure center of the brain predicts what king of music we will enjoy based on the connection it makes to other parts of our brain, according to what our brain is ‘programmed’ to like.

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“It predicts the reward that you’ll feel from a given piece of music based on similar types of music you’ve heard before. If you like it better than predicted, it registers as intense pleasure. If you feel worse than predicted, you feel bored or disappointed.” Virginia Hughes, National Geographic

New music fits into patterns already mapped out in the brain by our past musical tastes. It is pleasurable not only because it is familiar, but it deviates just enough to feel new and exciting. It doesn’t seem repetitive.

Music therefore can be used as a mood enhancer or elevator. For the brokenhearted, a sad song is empathetic and validating. It is an elixir of motivation to compel the completion of the most mundane of tasks. There are many ways to participate in and utilize music and broadening musical experience and taste can become a journey of self discovery, for like any art form, in music we see our humanity.

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There are several ways to participate in music on a daily basis.

Listen to it.

Put on the radio, get out your old records, plug in your device. Whatever you are doing, music can be present in the background or the foreground. For example; listen to something energetic while you wash the car. Some classical music playing softly in the background is a great compliment to reading or studying.

Make it.

Play an instrument. If you don’t know how, improvise or better still, learn. It is never too late and even without formal music reading education and training, anyone can tune into their own musicality and learn the intricacies of an instrument. Try a simple percussion instrument like a bongo or tambourine if you have rhythm or something more complicated like the piano or guitar with formal lessons. And sing. Sing your heart out. In the shower or the car, to your children. Do karaoke, make up songs and sing along to the ones you know and love. Singing is a fantastic stress reliever and can be meditative too.

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Understand it.

Learn to read and understand music, the composition of a song, melody, lyric writing, different styles – the list is endless. Exploring music can be determined by your own personal interests. Maybe music history is your forte, or indulging in the classics. Read the biographies of your favorite musicians or artists, they are always extremely fascinating.

Go global.

Find out about musical styles and instruments from around the world and try and witness them. Music is a wonderful way to learn about a culture while you are traveling. Make an effort to see a traditional show or concert every time you are abroad and broaden your musical horizons.

Music makes us feel so good and the benefits of music are many. It calms and soothes us when we are anxious or sad. It motivates and energizes us when we need incentive. It’s a great tool for distraction and redirecting our focus. It educates us and opens our minds to the common human experience, our history and our hope for the future.

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Diane Koopman

Writer, Author, Novelist, Self-Publisher

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Last Updated on July 23, 2019

5 Steps To Move Out Of Stagnancy In Life

5 Steps To Move Out Of Stagnancy In Life

In the journey of growth, there are times when we grow and excel. We are endlessly driven and hyped up, motivated to get our goals.

Then there are times when we stagnate. We feel uninspired and unmotivated. We keep procrastinating on our plans. More often than not, we get out of a rut, only to get back into another one.

How do you know if you are stagnating? Here are some tell-tale signs:

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  • If you have been experiencing chronic procrastination on your goals
  • If you don’t ever feel like doing anything
  • If you keep turning to sleep, eating, games, mindless activities and entertainment for comfort
  • If you know you should be doing something, but yet you keep avoiding it
  • If you have not achieved anything new or significant now relative to 1 month, 2 months or 3 months ago
  • If you have a deep sense of feeling that you are living under your potential

When we face stagnation in life, it’s a sign of deeper issues. Stagnation, just like procrastination, is a symptom of a problem. It’s easy to beat ourselves over it, but this approach is not going to help. Here, I will share 5 steps to help you move out of this stagnation. They won’t magically transform your life in 1 night (such changes are never permanent because the foundations are not built), but they will help you get the momentum going and help you get back on track.

1. Realize You’re Not Alone

Everyone stagnates at some point or another. You are not alone in this and more importantly, it’s normal. In fact, it’s amazing how many of my clients actually face the same predicament, even though all of them come from different walks of life, are of different ages, and have never crossed paths. Realizing you are not alone in this will make it much easier to deal with this period. By trying to “fight it”, you’re only fighting yourself. Accept this situation, acknowledge it, and tell yourself it’s okay. That way, you can then focus on the constructive steps that will really help you.

2. Find What Inspires You

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Stagnation comes because there isn’t anything that excites you enough to take action. If you don’t have a habit of setting goals, and instead just leave yourself to daily mundanes, it’s not surprising you are experiencing stagnation. What do you want to do if there are no limitations? If you can have whatever you want, what will it be? The answers to these questions will provide the fuel that will drive you forward.

On the other hand, even if you are an experienced goal setter, there are times when the goals you set in the past lose their appeal now. It’s normal and it happens to me too. Sometimes we lose touch with our goals, since we are in a different emotional state compared to when we first set them. Sometimes our priorities change and we no longer want to work on those goals anymore. However, we don’t consciously realize this, and what happens is we procrastinate on our goals until it compounds into a serious problem. If that’s the case for you, it’s time to relook into your goals. There’s no point in pursuing goals that no longer inspire you. Trash away your old goals (or just put them aside) and ask yourself what you really want now. Then go for them.

3. Give Yourself a Break

When’s the last time you took a real break for yourself? 3 months? 6 months? 1 year? Never? Perhaps it’s time to take a time-out. Prolonged working can cause someone to become disillusioned as they lose sight of who they are and what they want.

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Go take some extended leave from work. A few days at bare minimum; a few weeks or months will be great. Some of my ex-colleagues have quit their jobs and took months out to do some self-reflection. Of course, some of us might not have that luxury, so we can stick to a few weeks of leave. Go on a trip elsewhere and get away from your work and your life. Use this chance to get a renewed perspective of life. Think about your life purpose, what you want and what you want to create for your life in the future. These are big questions that require deep thinking over them. It’s not about finding the answers at one go, but about taking the first step to finding the answers.

4. Shake up Your Routines

Being in the same environment, doing the same things over and over again and meeting the same people can make us stagnant. This is especially if the people you spend the most time with are stagnant themselves.

Change things around. Start with simple things, like taking a different route to work and eating something different for breakfast. Have your lunch with different colleagues, colleagues you never talked much with. Work in a different cubicle if your work has free and easy seating. Do something different than your usual for weekday evenings and weekends. Cultivate different habits, like exercising every day, listening to a new series of podcasts every morning to work, reading a book, etc (here’s 6 Proven Ways To Make New Habits Stick). The different contexts will give you different stimulus, which will trigger off different thoughts and actions in you.

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When I’m in a state of stagnancy, I’ll get a sense of what’s making me stagnate. Sometimes it’s the environment I’m in, sometimes it’s the people I’ve been hanging out with, sometimes it’s my lifestyle. Most of the times it’s a combination of all these. Changing them up helps to stir myself out of the stagnant mode.

5. Start with a Small Step

Stagnation also comes from being frozen in fear. Maybe you do want this certain goal, but you aren’t taking action. Are you overwhelmed by the amount of work needed? Are you afraid you will make mistakes? Is the perfectionist in you taking over and paralyzing you?

Let go of the belief that it has to be perfect. Such a belief is a bane, not a boon. It’s precisely from being open to mistakes and errors that you move forward. Break down what’s before you into very very small steps, then take those small steps, a little step at a time. I had a client who had been stagnating for a long period because he was afraid of failing. He didn’t want to make another move where he would make a mistake. However, not wanting to make a mistake has led him to do absolutely nothing for 2-3 years. On the other hand, by doing just something, you would already be making progress, whether it’s a mistake or not. Even if you make a supposed “mistake”,  you get feedback to do things differently in the next step. That’s something you would never have known if you never made a move.

More to Help You Stay Motivated

Here are some resources that will help you break out of your current phase:

Featured photo credit: Anubhav Saxena via unsplash.com

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